MN marijuana bills introduced, face uncertain future

Rep. Mike Freiberg, left, Sen. Melisa Fanzen and Sen. Scott Jensen discuss legislation to legalize and regulate recreation marijuana use. Tim Pugmire| MPR News

Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota began taking shape Monday with legislation introduced in both the House and Senate.

Under the bill, individuals age 21 or older would be allowed to cultivate, consume and possess cannabis. The product would be regulated for commercial sale, and eligible individuals could have past marijuana convictions expunged.

Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, is the chief sponsor of the House bill. Freiberg said that legalization in Minnesota is inevitable.

“We’ve taken a position that we need to get in front of this,” Freiberg said.

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Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, is the chief sponsor of the Senate bill. Franzen said it is time for lawmakers to have an important conversation about the issue.

“Rarely as a state legislature do you have the ability to have a win-win scenario: to tax a product that consumers agree should be taxed and regulated,” Franzen said. “By doing so we are making it safer by removing the need for the black market to exist, while eliminating the harm that it has done to society.”

The Freiberg and Franzen bills are separate from a proposal to put the issue before voters in 2020 as a constitutional amendment question.

Franzen’s bill is co-authored by Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska. Jensen, a medical doctor, said many of his constituents asked him to get involved with the issue.

“This is not something that can be blocked by committee chairs saying ‘we’re not going to hear it.’” Jensen said. “This bill, this idea has to be shown the light of day, and we all have to be there participating.”

Gov. Tim Walz has said he would support legalization. Still, prospects for the bill this session remain uncertain.

Top House and Senate leaders have said it is not a priority for the 2019 session.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said an informational hearing might be possible this session. But Gazelka said he has concerns about discussing marijuana legalization when lawmakers are also addressing distracted driving and opioid abuse.

“It seems counterproductive to some of the things we’re actually trying to accomplish this year,” Gazelka said.